The illegal green turtle trade in Bali has returned to an old style, the smuggling and trading of living animals, environmental activists claimed.
Wayan Wiradnyana, chairman of the Bali Sea Turtle Society, said in a meeting in Denpasar on Thursday that the newest mode of alleged illegal trading of turtles was smuggling and trading living turtles onto the island.
“In the past few years, the turtles were slaughtered and cut into pieces to trade the meat on the black market, but since the last year, the trend has returned to its original illegal scheme — trafficking living turtles,” maintained Wiradnyana.
He elaborated that trading turtles in the form of cut meat was aimed at cheating the authorities. “They [the police and the authorities] would find it hard to recognize whether it was turtle meat or cuts of fish meat,” he said.
Now, the trend had changed. Turtles were being smuggled alive as the price was very high on the black market, he said. Moreover, sellers were suspicious that the cut up turtle meat was mixed with fish or other animal meat, he added.
Generally, a green turtle of 30 to 40 centimeters length in the carapace will be sold for Rp 1 million (US$103.50).
“We have also found that the turtles were being trafficked from the island of Sumbawa in West Nusa Tenggara. Previously, the turtles were mostly procured from Sulawesi, Maluku and Kalimantan,” he added.
Wiradnyana said that he presumed that Sumbawa had abundant green turtles.
“If this illegal traffic of turtles continues, we are afraid that the population of the animals will be
endangered,” he said.
Green turtles are strictly protected under a decree as their population is under threat from over-harvesting of both eggs and adults, as well as from accidental mortality in fishing nets.
The green turtles are widely harvested for their meat in many tropical countries, including in Indonesia, which has banned its trade and consumption since 1996.
The smuggling of the endangered green turtles onto the island of Bali has been ongoing to meet the demand for their meat. Traditionally, the Balinese people consumed turtle meat as a delicacy.
Legal and illegal turtle traders in Bali have claimed that their activities were an important part of religious rituals.
Some rituals in Bali required offerings using the meat of turtles and other protected species, such as eagles and tigers. However, the influential Indonesian Parishada Hindu Council (PHDI) issued a religious decree in August 2005 stipulating that other animals or symbols, drawings or cakes in the forms of those animals, could satisfy ritual requirements.
Meanwhile, Made Arjaya, chairman of Commission I of Bali Legislative Council, stated that people illegally trading in turtles should not use ritual activities as an excuse for such illicit practices. “I am hoping that the authorities have imposed strict punishments and sanctions against those committing such illegal activities,” the legislator said.
Wiradnyana said that turtle trade in Bali had sharply dropped by around 90 percent from 1999’s figure when around 27,000 to 30,000 turtles were traded annually.
According to data from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an estimated 100,000 green turtles are killed in Indonesian and Australian waters every year. Green turtle consumption in Bali reached its peak in the late 1970s.
Sr. Adj. Com Handoyo Supeno from Bali’s water police said that the number of cases of illegal green turtle smuggling had been falling significantly.
“There were a few people who provided the animals and the demand has been decreasing,” he said.
Last December, Bali’s water police foiled an attempt to smuggle 33 green turtles.